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Dan Opler’s New Book – For All White Collar Workers
Addressing a room full of students, many of them history majors, Dr. Daniel Opler, history professor at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, appeared to hold court.  The students were gathered in the President’s Reception Room for a panel discussion of his recently published book, For All-White Collar Workers, The Possibilities of Radicalism in New York City's Department Store Unions, 1934-1953.  Although other faculty were in attendance to offer their perspectives, Opler was clearly the star attraction as he discussed the rise and fall of department store unions in New York City, and in a broader context, the failure of the white collar labor movement in an era that predates the mega mall and recognizes the sharp class distinctions that existed between salesperson and customer.

Opler’s speaking style is quiet and unassuming, yet he engages his audience with his witty sense of humor, appealingly dry.  The stalled labor movement in America and its impact on blue-collar and white-collar workers is not exactly a knee slapping subject, yet Opler managed to convey the serious and punctuate it with levity. 

For All-White Collar Workers is indeed a serious work. One reviewer remarked, “Opler takes the reader far beyond union meetings and contract negotiations, exploring the ways in which consumption, urban life, and changing understandings of public space affected the unions in these eras. As a result (the book) becomes an exploration of such diverse subjects as the conflicts over midtown Manhattan, the 1939–1940 New York World’s Fair, the link between consumption and patriotism during World War II, private housing developments in 1940s New York City, and suburbanization, all viewed through the lens of the rise and fall of New York City’s department store unions.”
 
Because the subject of the work is local and its theme topical, today’s students can relate to it.  The book  does more than explore the causes for the failure of a white collar labor union in department stores.  It explores postwar life for families living in the suburbs, changes in spending habits, gender roles and jobs. It goes on to show how the labor choices made in the mid-1930s directly impact our economy in the 21st century.

“In this book I explore a moment, in the midst of the most serious economic crisis this country has ever known, when the labor movement accomplished the unthinkable,” remarked Dr. Opler.  “Workers, even women workers in retail stores, who no one thought could be organized, formed powerful and dynamic unions that won struggles against some of the most powerful businesses of the era.  That's the most amazing thing about history--that pretty much everything that happened in history was considered, at one time or another, absolutely impossible."

This is the beginning of Dr. Opler’s fourth year at Mount Saint Vincent where he teaches American history, core history courses and co-teaches integrated and honors courses with members of the Communications, Sociology, and English departments.  He is the official advisor for FATES-MUSES, the history club at Mount Saint Vincent, as well as the Co-Coordinator of the Women's Studies Program.

Dr. Opler received his Ph.D. from New York University in 2003. He has published articles in the Journal of Social History and in Cercles, is the managing editor of the Columbia Journal of American Studies, and has taught U.S. history at Empire State College and Manhattan College.  His new book, For All White-Collar Workers: The Possibilities of Radicalism in New York City’s Department Store Unions, 1934 to 1953 is published by Ohio State University Press (2007).

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